After surprisingly strong offensive seasons last year, the Falcons and Jaguars both had hopes -- and made moves -- to make the leap from good to great. The Falcons jumped at the chance to draft Bijan Robinson eighth overall, making him the first running back to go in the top 10 since Saquon Barkley in 2018. The Jaguars, meanwhile, acquired Calvin Ridley from the Falcons , in the midst of his one-year suspension from the NFL for gambling. The Jaguars doubled down on their desire to improve the offense during the offseason, taking lineman Anton Harrison in the first round.
Both teams finished in the top dozen in offensive expected points added per game last year. This year, the Falcons are 20th, and the Jaguars are 30th. It's disappointing and unexpected. It's also still very early. Maybe they just need a little getaway to get things off the ground. This weekend at Wembley Stadium in London, both Atlanta and Jacksonville are hoping to find answers -- or face a long flight home with even more questions.
When the Falcons have the ball ...
Last year, the Falcons finished third in expected points added per rush; so far this year, they're fifth. The issue is not the running game. The issues lie with Desmond Ridder.
The Falcons turned the keys over to Ridder late last season after the Marcus Mariota -- even with Atlanta still in the playoff race. Ridder struggled, but that's to be expected for a third-round rookie thrown into the fire. Plus, the experience, hypothetically, should have helped Ridder in 2023. So far, that's not the case.of
2022 Marcus Mariota vs. 2023 Desmond Ridder
Expected points added (EPA) per dropback
EPA per dropback against 4 rushers
Explosive plays per dropback
Sacks per pressure
Here's what those numbers mean: Based on expected points added, Mariota last year was roughly average and excelled when teams didn't blitz. Ridder this year is well below average overall and even worse when not blitzed. Furthermore, Mariota produced enough big plays to offset other inconsistencies; Ridder isn't doing so. And Mariota didn't take nearly as many sacks and was far more adept at escaping sacks.
One more concerning sign? It could be much worse for Ridder. He's thrown just one interception this season, but according to PFF's tracking, he's had an NFL-high five would-be interceptions dropped so far. If that normalizes ... oh boy.
If you like more basic stats, Mariota averaged 7.4 yards per attempt last year, good for 18th among 68 individual quarterback seasons over the past two years. This season, Ridder is averaging 6.3 yards per attempt, 56th among those 68.
When you're not producing enough positive plays and you're compounding that with too many negative plays, you get, well, 2023 Desmond Ridder.
What can Atlanta do to get on track? Playing the Jaguars could help: Jacksonville ranks 31st in pressure rate this season and 25th in net yards per attempt allowed. And maybe -- just maybe -- that means a few more much-needed deep shots. Ridder has completed six of his 10 throws at least 20 yards downfield, with half of those coming in his impressive comeback victory over the Packers. If the Jaguars aren't a get-right opponent, no team is.
Still, this is an offense that would like to lean on the run, and particularly watch runs to the left: The Falcons rank first in the NFL in expected points added per rush in that direction; the Jaguars are just 16th in success rate defending it, with only one tackle for loss.
When the Jaguars have the ball ...
We weren't sure Ridder could be the guy in Atlanta. We were sure Trevor Lawrence could be the guy in Jacksonville, especially after an outstanding close to last season. And despite the Jaguars' slow start, we should still feel that way.
- Lawrence has had nine of his passes dropped, most in the NFL.
- When opponents blitz, the Jaguars' struggling offensive line gets overwhelmed. Lawrence is pressured on nearly 54% of his dropbacks against the blitz, and he has the NFL's worst expected points added per dropback (-0.43) in those scenarios. He's also had four passes dropped against the blitz, tied for the league lead.
- The Jaguars rank 29th in expected points added per game on turnovers (-9.23). This includes two turnovers via Jamal Agnew -- a fumble and a dropped lateral -- and two more by Tank Bigsby: a drop that resulted in an interception and a fumble when he picked up a loose ball, thought the play was over and then got the ball ripped out of his hands, resulting in a DeForest Buckner touchdown.
It's almost impossible for the Jaguars to continue to be this bad. I mean, on multiple occasions, the Jaguars have literally handed the ball to their opponent. Since 2018, only three teams have been as bad as the Jaguars' current rate of expected points added on turnovers, and two of those teams were quarterbacked by Jameis Winston. Trevor Lawrence is not Jameis Winston.
Just two weeks ago, after Ridley's eight-catch, 101-yard, one-touchdown season debut, I highlighted Christian Kirk, his teammate, is tied for third with two.. Since then, he has an NFL-high four drops.
We can say that the Jaguars will be fine and that their ridiculous turnovers and drops will come to an end, but until they actually do, it's up to Jacksonville to get it right. Playing the Falcons seems like a good chance. Atlanta has generated pressure on only 34.4% of its blitzes this season, 27th in the NFL. And when the Falcons do blitz, they have just a 50% success rate against the pass, 26th in the NFL.
In turn, if the Jaguars' offensive line can hold up -- admittedly a big "if" -- I'd like to see more deep shots for Lawrence. Last year, he had an 8.7% explosive play rate per dropback. That's down to 6.3% this year. His average time to throw and his average air yards, likewise, are down. The Falcons allowed four plays of 20+ yards last week against the Lions, three of which came off Jared Goff throws. The Jaguars' struggles have been far from Lawrence's fault alone, but he's the guy who can pull them out of their rut, too.